Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why the Freak-Out Over Gluten Free Cheerios

When General Mills announced that they would be making Cheerios gluten free in Fall of 2015, most of us parents of gluten free children freaked out in a good way. Our kids could have their favorite toddler cereal back! We could use coupons! That is one of the cereals that often goes on sale! It's one of the cereals that isn't too sugary and has no food coloring! When the preschool or classroom breaks out Cheerios for a snack or project, I won't have to worry anymore! Did I mention coupons???

The story behind gluten free Cheerios
The story goes that a top executive at General Mills has a daughter-in-law with Celiac, and wanted her and others with the same dietary restrictions to be able to enjoy Cheerios again.

We all know that while this may be a true story, a catalyst perhaps, that General Mills did this as they are a business and they know the cash-cow that is the gluten free food market. Companies - all of them - exist to make a profit, not for the sole purpose of compassion. (and you know what? I'm not sure I care their motivation if they make a great product!)

So as details emerged, happy parent freak-outs became cautious parent freak-outs. General Mills created a proprietary machine to sort the gluten out of the oats, essentially sifting the wheat and barley grains out of the batch. This is the first time (except for Omission Beer) that oats would be specifically labeled "gluten free" that were not grown as certified gluten free oats, from fields and mills that are kept separate from wheat and barley cross contamination.

GM invited several gluten free bloggers to tour the new facility and see how it works. Some were skeptical that the machine could truly filter out enough wheat and barley to produce a product that consistently contains less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

Others were - and still are - very concerned as well with how General Mills would actually test the product to make sure they were in compliance with the FDA's gluten free label. A great explanation here:   According to General Mills, they were testing twelve to eighteen boxes per production cycle.

However, what happened that triggered this week's recall of 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios completely contradicts what we were told of how this product was ensured to be safe to eat. According to the article, , "Since the oat flour had been tested twice at the Fridley mill, General Mills didn’t check the cereal itself as its rolled off the production line."

Oooof. Cue an absolute freak-out from the Celiac community. And gluten free. And wheat allergy.

General Mills claimed to have a personal, vested interest in doing this right. That is simply not compatible with what occurred. The FDA recall ( is for four days of production of regular Cheerios and THIRTEEN days of Honey Nut Cheerios. How on earth do you not test at all for thirteen days? Back in July? When this was brand spanking new?

This could have been a game changer. For General Mills, for other companies, for Celiacs and gluten free eaters everywhere. Gluten free oats are incredibly expensive (I pay anywhere from $4 to $7 a bag, and we go through oatmeal like crazy around here), and I was super excited and hopeful that the new technology was going to help make breakfast a little more affordable --- and a little more available. We travel a lot, and to be able to go to a hotel and eat breakfast, instead of hauling our boxes of Chex into the dining room, would be wonderful. For my son to have more options at a better price as he gets older and is existing off of cereal while he's in college - it is comforting to a mother's heart. I am deeply saddened that General Mills botched their implementation so badly.

At our house, I purchased two boxes of Cheerios when they first came out: one original flavor, one multigrain. I thought cross-contamination might be minimized with the multigrain one as oats is only one of many other grains in it. (no idea if this is true, just my crazy mom brain) We allowed our son to try it on a weekend, just in case he did react (he didn't). My son was "meh" over the cereal - thought to be fair, he shoved fistful after fistful of the original into his mouth as a tot, not multigrain. He didn't even want another bowl, but my gluten-eating son was very pleased to have Cheerios back in the house and took one for the team and finished the box.

I gave the other box to the food pantry several weeks ago. The worry and mind games (and this was before the recall, though stirrings were being heard of complaints in the gluten free community) were just not worth it. There are so many brands out there that do it right and that my son enjoys - and no one should have to play Russian Roulette with their food.

 It is hard and heart-braking explaining to a Celiac child why they can see this and can't eat it...

As we were standing in the grocery store, looking at all the boxes of newly labeled gluten free Cheerios, my older son pleaded with General Mills what I believe we were all thinking and hoping... "please follow through."

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